When C.D. Tam was running Motorola's Asian operations he got so many speeding tickets that the Hong Kong authorities raised the speed limit on his route to work to keep him out of trouble.
Mr. Tam, who includes "Member of the British Empire" among his titles, is not at all recalcitrant about his driving record. Indeed, he says he prefers employees with speeding tickets over those with parking tickets - emphasizing quickness.
His love of speed and flashy cars were key ingredients that led to his most recent role running Motorola's transportation systems group in the semiconductor products sector. Since 1996 he has been on this side of the Pacific as senior vice president and general manager of the Austin, TX-based unit.
The energetic leader obviously likes to think on his feet, explaining proudly how he helped Motorola get around a telephone monopoly in Hong Kong to start the first cellular phone service in the city. It turns out the monopoly agreement for the city's phone system, written before cellular service had been developed, specifically mentioned phone wires.
To promote the new technology, he hired the second-place finisher in the Ms. Hong Kong contest as the model. Motorola couldn't afford to pay the high fees required by the first-place finisher. It paid off for the company and for the model. Motorola's cellular service skyrocketed.
"She (the second-place finisher) is famous now in Hong Kong. I don't think anyone remembers who the winner was that year," Mr. Tam chortles.
The innovative manager is hoping to use the same kinds of savvy to help Motorola keep its automotive chip leadership. He's banking on the emerging so-called M-Core technology to maintain a stranglehold on the lower end of the automotive chip market, and the new MPC555 microcontroller to revolutionize the engine-control segment.
The electronics giant has reorganized its automotive focus to emphasize product areas instead of commodities, part of the industry-wide shift toward systems development.
Motorola's new M-Core chip already has grabbed $1.6 billion in new orders despite only being on the market a few months, he says. The chip is designed to use so little power it could be run on two nearly dead AAA batteries, or 1.8 volts. At $13 each in batches of 10,000 units, Motorola also figures it's cost-competitive.
Low-voltage requirements are vital now that some high-end vehicles have more than 50 microcontrollers.
M-Core can't handle the high end of the market, but it is suitable for just about every other basic automotive requirement, engineers say. And where M-Core isn't beefy enough, Motorola now has MPC555.
With the MPC555, a motorist could conceivably get a whole new engine software package downloaded in the time it takes to fill out the paperwork at the dealership.
It might even be possible to download the information directly through an Inter-net connection in the vehicle, Mr. Tam says, if auto dealers were wil-ling to let that happen.
The chip will cram the computing power to run both transmission and engine systems into one unit and make it durable enough to be mounted right on the engine.
The new chip allows software updates in the control unit even when the engine is as warm as 125oF (52oC). In addition, the flash memory on the chip can be erased and re-written several times for numerous upgrades.
The chip was developed with an as-yet-unnamed automotive partner. Although Motorola's partner gets the first batch of the new chip, other automakers could easily adapt it to their systems, says Mr. Tam.
"They wanted to get some advantage from their participation," he says. "But they're actually banking on their own proprietary experience in overall powertrain development will give them an advantage even if others have access to the (chip)."
In fact, the participating automaker accepted some performance compromises to ensure the chip would be as generic as possible for other automakers' programs, says Dick Spilo, manager of strategic marketing for Motorola's powertrain systems division.
The partner also asked Motorola to specifically design the new chip to be used with both gasoline and diesel engines.
The chip should be available for customers in July at an initial price of about $45 for lots of 10,000. By the year 2000, those prices have to fall to less than $30, Mr. Spilo says.
A customer could use the same chip for all of its vehicles and simply change the software to adapt it to the particular engine. It will allow cylinder-by-cylinder optimization and other operations that were impossible with older-generation chips, he says.
Some lower-level calibration and validation tools are integrated right into the chip, which allows faster development of new systems. With the basic programming covered by Motorola and its partners, auto-maker engineers can concentrate on higher-level tweaking.
The new chip, with 7 million transistors, is a far cry from the 6,000 transistors in the first chip Motorola designed for automakers to meet emission standards, says Mr. Tam.
With M-Core and MPC555, Motorola is confident it has the silicon-based weapons it needs to be a major force in the automotive market for years to come.
Technology is shifting, explains Mr. Tam. The desktop computer is no longer the driving technology in the semiconductor world. That honor now belongs to telecommunications innovators, an area where Motorola is king, he says.
The company is the largest supplier of microprocessors to the automotive industry, with about 17% of the market, as well as running at the top of the pack in communications and commodity products, he says. Twelve of the top 14 automakers use Motorola engine-control units to run their powertrains.
The overall semiconductor industry grew about 5% last year, but Motorola picked up 15% more business in the automotive segment, Mr. Tam adds.
With all that energy, you have to wonder how long it will be before the folks in Austin, TX, consider raising the speed limit on the route to his new office.